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On the night of 9/10 July, the Western Allies mounted an amphibious invasion of Sicily. Three days later, Hitler summoned Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein to his Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia and declared his intention to "temporarily" call off Operation Zitadelle. Von Manstein attempted to dissuade him, arguing that Zitadelle was on the brink of victory: "on no account should we let go of the enemy until the mobile reserves which he had committed were decisively beaten". In an unusual reversal of their roles, Hitler gave von Manstein a few more days to continue the offensive, but on 17 July, he ordered a withdrawal and canceled the operation. He then ordered the entire SS Panzer Corps to be transferred to Italy.[87]

While Hitler often made notoriously poor judgments for all the wrong reasons, did he make the right decision for Germany (for the wrong reason) in this specific isolated case? Was Zitadelle really on the brink of victory as Von Manstein believed?

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Cancelling Zitadelle was crazy, the Germans needed that Ziti. – Tyler Durden May 15 at 18:41
While Hitler may have ordered the whole corps transferred, only one division wound up transferred to Italy. He ordered a lot of things that didn't happen. – Schwern Oct 28 at 18:40

4 Answers 4

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Hitler was right in this instance. It was Manstein that extended the battle too far.

The "official" reason for the offensive, was to recapture the city of Kursk. That was within the reach of the Germans.

The REAL purpose of the offensive was to cut off the Russian salient, of which Kursk was the tip. The reason this didn't work was that the Russians concentrated their defense lines at the BASE of salient (south and north of Orel and Belgorod), on either side, instead of concentrating their forces at Kursk, where they could be cut off.

What Manstein should have done was to "snap off" Kursk at the tip of the salient, then "declare victory and go home." What he actually did was to WIDEN the front by moving the German forces east to Prokhorovka. This turned the battle from one of decision (which favored the Germans) to one of attrition (which favored the Russians), who could trade their more numerous tanks for German vehicles at a rate of about one to one.

This was because Manstein had let the Kursk operation deteriorate from the [1] "set piece battle" to a "meeting engagement" in which Germany had no advantage.

So Hitler was right to stop the Kursk operation, with or without regard to what was happening in Italy.


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But the northern front hardly made any progress, how could Manstein snap off anything? If I remember correctly he veered east, because moving there was easier. Without the northern front also advancing, nothing could close the pincers even if he could advance north. I've always thought the error was, that they did not attack the soviet reserve outright and attempt a massive encirclement. – user1095108 Apr 13 '14 at 20:03
@user1095108: Kursk was at the tip of the salient. Manstein could just about snap it off, "declare victory, and go home." Trying for more than that was too much. That includes a "massive encirclement" because detachment Kempf (on Mantein's east) was late to the battle. – Tom Au Apr 13 '14 at 20:13
But how? Model was hardly making progress. – user1095108 Apr 13 '14 at 21:12
Kursk is not at the tip. It is about where the two offenses would have met, had they worked, which they did not. – Oldcat Apr 14 '14 at 19:12
@Oldcat: Actually, the southern offense was "working" (but only at the west end of the salient), and might have carried the day at Kursk. The point I tried to make was that was the "maximum" von Manstein should have hoped for, not the "minimum" as he did. – Tom Au Apr 14 '14 at 19:17

The whole operation was doomed from the start because the Allies at Bletchley Park had deciphered the German plans for the attack.

The British gave the Russians ample warning time of this, although the Russians already knew about it as they had spies of their own within British intelligence.

Given that the Russians had several weeks forewarning, they amassed tanks, guns and soldiers in great number and prepared many layers of defence lines to defeat the German assault.

Had the Germans never launched Zitadelle they would have preserved their precious tanks and probably prolonged the war although the end result would have been the same. Hitler made the right decision on this occasion, by calling the operation off, but he should have done so sooner.

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+1 for mentioning the futility of the whole operation. There can be no "right" decisions when the war is effectively lost already. – DevSolar Apr 14 '14 at 12:30
The Russians had their own spies that also had revealed the plan. – Oldcat Apr 14 '14 at 19:10

I think he was only partially right and this is because the units transferred were SS units. In the east, the SS fought both its racial and ideological enemies (the Bolshevik Jewry; which was mostly propaganda, but people believed it). There it was in its element, both as regards the savagery of fighting and the atrocities inflicted on the civilian population. In light of later massive surrendering of Germans to the western Allies, but stiff resistance against the Russians, no SS unit should probably ever have been transferred from the East, except for rest and refit.

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Could you add references that SS units fought better in the East? With Italy surrendering, you'd want your most loyal troops there. Also, the II SS Panzer Corps was one corps out of 17 involved in the battle and only one division, 1st SS Panzer, was sent to Italy and later back to the East. The rest stayed on the Eastern front. – Schwern Oct 28 at 18:36

I believe that the underlying intention of the High command was never to close the kursk salient with 2 pincers. This has been lauded as gospel for ages and ages and stands in the way of Mansteins thinking. I believe that the Soviet High command make a key strategic error when they positioned the bulk of their armour too close to the Northern pincer. The Northern "Pincer" was not the main pincer, in fact it's firepower was more defensive in charachter with all Ferdinands placed there and the defensive Hagen position available to fall back to which they did in good order. (Model had soaked up significant attacks at the Meat grinder of Rshev with the 9th army and the expectation was that he was to do it again) So essentially one sees what actually occurred in the Invasion of France in 1940 with a sickle through the ardennes now being the Southern Pincer. von Manstein having the core of the firepower, the massive SS corps and Gross Deutschlkand etc down South. Unlike the fiction of Prokhoroka being a Soviet victory it wasn't the 5th Guards etc was wasted...the Soviets actually had committed all reserves in the South and the German Armoured formations were both intact and had reserves. There was no substantive threat to the Eastern flank as those Soviet reserves had already been committed and slaughtered. Whilst Von Manstein had 3 additional panzer divisions in reserve. Its quiet clear that a break through could have been made and given that the rest of the Soviet armoured reserve units were out of position trying to break through against Model in the North. They would not have been able to turn South and get to von Manstein in time. The effect would have been a hammer blow comming up from the South against the soviet armoured units and pressed them against Models Hagen line (Anvil). The distance involved was open tank country...German tanks were being repaired at such a rate that in fact there was almost no difference between tank avaialability on the 13th than there was 5 days earlier...If Von Manstein could snatch a victory at Kharkiv outnumbered 8:1 what he would have done at Kursk could certainly have been within his grasp. As more and more detail comes out of the battle we realize that the Soviets were simply lieing lieing at infinitum Stalin had prepared the script before the battle even started. Hitler essentially pulled out as he did at the Invasion of France where Guderian didn't stop at Sedan but kept up the charge to Dunkirk where Adolf again made the wrong call.

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Can you turn this wall of text into paragraph please? – Bregalad Jun 25 at 21:08
And provide a few references to back up the block of opinion. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 25 at 22:58

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